Wednesday, 12 August 2009

More autonomous "education"......

I cited below a book published this year written by Deborah Durbin. Teach Yourself Home Education is written by an autonomously educating mother and presumably she knows what she is talking about. Here she explains how her children learn English, which is to say the spelling, grammar and punctuation of their native language. She talks, on page 69, about how her children might choose to write a letter to a friend and, in some mysterious way, while doing so, "they are learning how to punctuate and write a gramatically correct piece of work." It can't be anything to do with their mother, because she goes on to say, "I do not stand over them because I feel that if they want my help they will ask for it, so I am often at my desk writing".

These are truly extraordinary claims and I feel sure that there is Nobel Prize waiting for the person who can give a theoretical mechanism for this teaching technique. How do her children learn that a sentence must begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop? By what strange method does she convey the necessity for a sentence to have unity and contain a verb? We are not told. Simply that Mummy is sitting on the other side of the room and her children are learning, " how to punctuate and write a gramatically correct piece of work". I suppose that I did it the hard way, because I would get my daughter to draft the letter, then I would point out that she had forgotten the date or missed out the salutation and so on. I do not believe that any child could possibly guess that the traditional place for the date is in the upper right hand corner, beneath the address. Ms. Durbin says that she will help if asked, but without knowing anything of the matter, how will the children know what to ask? Suppose they don't care and are content to produce a sloppy, semi-literate and all but illegible piece of writing? Many children do this. How actually will the children learn the conventions of letter writing, let alone spelling and grammar, unless they are taught them? This is a regular conundrum, the answer to which is known only to Ms. Durbin.

I have been quoting Ross Mountney and Deborah Durbin on this, because I wanted to show what modern thinking is on the subject of autonomous education. John Holt is of course little better. Besides which his folksy style and homely anecdotes soon have all right thinking people reaching for the sick bag.

Does it matter whether or not children learn to write letters properly, following the same conventions as everybody else? Well it does if they wish to write to a potential employer, or their bank or some other place where there might be literate and educated people to read the letter. Few things give a worse impression of a job applicant than missing out "Dear Sir" or not signing the letter at the bottom. This is not some hopelessly abstract area of learning like the Hundred Years War or quadratic equations; it is a vital skill for day to day living. Why on Earth would one not teach it to a child?

1 comment:

  1. My 5 year old daughter spontaneously began to use full stops recently when writing. (she cannot yet read, she copies the words she is interested in writing) This writing convention has never been formally shown to her, she has learned it through watching me write, looking at books being read to her, etc. etc. The driving force in children, and adults for that matter, is to learn the skills they need to live in the society around them. If they see something often enough, they assume it to be of importance and attempt to learn it, when they are ready to. My daughter has discovered full stops, she has many years ahead of her to learn about capital letters, commas, etc. It does not have to be rushed or pushed in a prescribed manner. My daughter also recently learned to do a forward roll on her own, quite late compared to her age contemporaries. She choose to do so when she felt ready to, but being a physical skill no one suggested pushing her before she was ready to do so. There is no reason why academics should not be treated in the same way, other than generations of people growing up in school environments absorbing the belief that if academics are taught a particular way and with a particular emphasis in the classroom it must have been proved to be the best way of doing things for all children. No such proof exists but a large body of evidence does suggest that it fails a lot of children.